School proprietors will recently have been informed by the Independent Education and Boarding Team of the Department for Education (DfE) of a policy change on how the DfE intends to determine applications for a material change proposed for an independent school.

What does the law say?

When ‘material’ changes are proposed, there is a legal requirement for the proprietor to seek approval from the DfE before the change is implemented. The DfE can either approve or refuse the application.

The DfE may remove a school from the register if there is a significant change that has not been approved.

What are ‘material’ changes requiring DfE approval?

Material changes include:

  • a change of school address (but not adding another site unless it increases capacity)
  • change of proprietor
  • change to the maximum number of registered pupils
  • addition or removal of boarding (but not changing the number of boarding places unless this changes the maximum number of permitted pupils)
  • change from single-sex to co-ed or vice versa
  • change to the registered age-range of the school
  • admitting one or more SEN pupils.

Proprietors are free to seek approval for more than one change at any one time.

What is the recent policy change?

Until now, the DfE considered whether all the standards contained within The Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 (ISS) were met before approving a material change.

However, the DfE have reviewed the position and will now only consider whether the standards relevant to the material change in question have been met before approving the application.

For example, if a school wishes to change its address to a new location to improve its accommodation, provided the new premises meet the standards in Part 5 of the ISS the material change will likely be approved. This is even where there are non-compliance issues under another standard, such Part 7 (the complaints standards). Conversely, if a school intends to expand its age-range and size but there are serious educational failings pertinent to all pupils, the educational standards would be relevant and the material change would unlikely be approved.

Will an inspection take place before the change is approved?

The DfE will determine if an inspection is required dependant on the specific circumstances of each case. This may include consideration of the change in question; when the last inspection took place; and the results of that inspection.

Is there any right of appeal?

Proprietors may appeal against a refusal to approve a material change relating to a school.